So you're thinking about hiring a PR agency. Great! Now let's figure out why and how you want to do that.
Why Hire a PR Agency?
Far too often, a business will hire a PR agency because they "want to get some publicity." While that's well-intentioned, it's also vague. Does it mean media coverage? Does it mean ad campaigns? Does it mean social? The point is that before hiring a PR agency, a business needs to define the objective first. "I want local media coverage that can drive foot traffic as well as serve as third party validation online" is a whole lot more specific than "Let's get publicity!"
Have a specific business purpose for hiring a PR agency.
Define the Role
Hiring a PR agency is like hiring a part-time employee that typically brings a little more bandwidth, experience and muscle to the table. Before you reach out to agencies or ask for recommendations, write a job description. While you may not know all the details, the more you can flesh out what this role looks like, the better. For example, how many hours are you willing to allocate? What are your ideal deliverables? How long are you looking to engage an agency? How important is the in-person / face-to-face element? What sort of reporting do you require? How do you envision your account team?
Ask for Recommendations
As with most things in business, a personal recommendation goes much further than googling. Talk to your business-owning peers or folks you know who have hired a PR agency before. And remember to think niche: many PR agencies specialize in markets like tech, retail, healthcare, education, non-profit, etc.
Meet Your Team
This is a mission-critical step. Far too often an agency will trot a high ranking, experienced executive into a pitch meeting and promise the world. Then once signed, your account team is two recent college graduates who, while earnest and (hopefully) talented, aren't as seasoned. Great PR pros are experienced not just in media relations but are usually able to understand your business, your model, your customer and frankly you better than a rookie. However, this doesn't mean that you should require a senior-only PR team. That'll be more expensive and you'll miss out on the progressive, unconventional ideas younger folks might bring.
Be wary of a PR agency that promises you New York Times coverage out of the gate. In the same vein, you need to be conscious of the sometimes long-tail nature of earning media coverage. Discuss with your candidate agencies things like ramp-up time, material/pitch creation time, and realistic goals. An agency that's transparent with you about those things is probably the right one.
The more you and your PR agency-to-be can align on what you all will expect out of each other, the more fruitful the relationship will be.
Define the Engagement Term
Most business consultancies — from PR shops to IT providers — will want to lock in a long-term deal of, say, six or 12 months. (Can you blame them? Of course not.) But if this is your first foray into PR, consider a three month engagement to start (assuming that aligns with things like expected ramp-up period). Why three months? Three months is often enough time to see some traction and results. Plus it's a good measure for finding out if you all actually like working together. At the end of three months, retrospect with your agency, review what's worked, what hasn't and then draft the next scope of work.
The more informed and knowledgeable of the PR process you can be, the better off your agency engagements will be. Is that solely up to you? No. That's as much your agency's responsibility as it yours. And those that guide will likely end up being a great fit.